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Unmixing and Diagram: SMRN Meeting of June 2019

SMRN had another wonderful meeting on June 30 with members joining including: Steve Baris, Carol Bier, Millie Chen, Siying Duan, Nezih Erdogan, Farshid Kazemi, Javad Khajavi, Lynn Kirby, Laura Marks, Narjis Mirza, JR Osborn, Radek Przedpelski, Kalpana Subramanian, and Yvan Tina.

Our member JR Osborn presented and demoed his “Un-Mixing” program, which he built in Flash but plans to convert to newer software. JR is interested in using digital tools for analytical and pedagogical purposes, and suggests un-mixing reflects the move from a ‘read-only’ culture to a ‘read-write’ culture. Yet unlike remixing, un-mixing maintains the integrity of a work: a concern for JR since the African works he studies are often appropriated. The idea of “un-mixing” an art piece is to isolate elements from the painting in order to attract attention to elements that would easily be overlooked otherwise, and at the same time, open up space for understanding the piece from a different perspective. For example, JR and his team digitized Cheri Samba’s Autoportrait (1989) and then isolated text in French, text in Linala, the figure of Cheri Samba, and other elements such as skyscrapers and automobiles. This isolation was done with the careful preservation of the integrity of the whole piece. So all these elements can be lifted out individually and the remaining painting read anew.

In ensuing discussion we considered how fun it would be to use the software to record the process of making an artwork, to study symmetry in a work, to study the morphology of text, and to address the poetics of layers.

The meeting then turn to the second part: a free discussion on diagram, a topic that interests many of SMRN members. Our member Steve Baris started the conversation by sharing his Extended Diagram project (www.stevenbaris.com), looking at how diagrammatic thinking finds its way into artistic practices. JR showed his own collection of diagrams with a particular interest in the intersection of image and language. Kalpana and Siying shared the diagrams they had uploaded to the member blog: ‘Mansur’s Anatomy’ in the ‘Canon’ of Avicenna, Qanun fi’l-tibb, and a Daoist diagram of the “inner landscape” of the human body “Neijing tu.” Both of the diagrams are difficult to categorize as either image or diagram, thus opening a rethinking of the definition of a diagram. Laura mentioned that some humanities scholars are hesitant to use diagrams because they appear totalizing, or neutral; but none of us thought so. The discussion went deeper with a feast of members’ opinions including those from Radek, Yvan, Narjis, Millie, Lynn, and Carol.

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